Entertaining Ingenuity

June 2018 View more

Former Pottery Bayou owner Nora Napientek is revolutionizing the way we entertain one “mini” at a time with her company Nora Fleming. Her line of serving pieces can be customized with interchangeable ornaments, or minis, for just about any occasion. Naperville magazine spoke with Napientek about how rediscovering her inner artist led to creating a product line that is now sold in 1,500 shops across the country.

Have you always been an artist?
I grew up in Hinsdale and graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in political science, with an emphasis on women’s studies. I was always an artist at heart, constantly doodling and designing, but my very traditional education didn’t really encourage the arts as a career option. I thought life as “the most creative attorney” would be far superior to “unemployed with an art degree.”

After college, I got married and knew I wanted to start a family, but a career in law wasn’t conducive to the lifestyle I wanted, so I opened a paint-your-own-pottery shop.

How did you develop the idea of customizable serving pieces?
About 15 years ago, ladies would come into the shop and paint platters for every season, occasion or special event—that was when three-dimensional platters were becoming popular. They did Christmas platters decked out with 3-D ornaments, Halloween platters with scary skulls, and “It’s Your Special Day” platters adorned with birthday balloons. I kept wondering, where in the heck are these gals storing all those platters?

I quickly ran back to the kiln room, grabbed a drill and started drilling holes in pre-made platters I already had in the shop. Then, I sculpted miniature holiday icons, fired them up in the kiln, and glued a ceramic stick to each that fit in the hole in the platters I’d already drilled. Soon I had a little factory going in my basement and paid my friends (with beer) to paint base coats on minis while I did the intricate final touches. My goal was to streamline the entertaining process and bring simplicity to tablescapes with my artwork.

Do you design the minis yourself? How many people work at Nora Fleming?
Originally, I created them all by hand. Now, I take into account what our customers want to see and what fun trends are happening. We have 20 people at the company, and we release new products twice a year, in January and July.

What is “signing season”? How many stores do you visit each year?
I go to about 30 to 40 independent stores per year. They are fabulous—I get to spend time with customers and hear their stories about how they started their collections and what minis they would like to see next. I personalize their platters with important messages, dates or special events.

Are you a big holiday decorator? Do you entertain a lot?
I’m a huge holiday decorator; however, I love to keep things simple. I do mostly white decor with splashes of color, a lot like my serving pieces line. Of all the things we have in this world, the most precious is the web of relationships that make up our family and friends. Entertaining is the ultimate way to foster these relationships. You open your home, spend time preparing a meal, and enjoy time with your loved ones. My idea simplifies the process, so you can spend more time enjoying the company.